Video Deep Dive – LocalU Advanced Preview: When most leads come from Google do you still need a website?
Mike Blumenthal


This is our Deep Dive Into Local from September 18, 2017. In our Deep Dive series, we take a closer look at one thing in local that caught our attention and deserves a longer discussion.

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Mike: Welcome to last week in local’s Deep Dive with Joel and Mary. We have a LocalU Advanced coming up November 16th in beautiful Santa Monica, California, graciously hosted by Joel’s company, PatientPop. And over the next few weeks, we will be taking a deeper dive into some of the topics that we’ll be speaking about at LocalU Advanced this year. I’m really looking forward to it. As always, it’s one of the best events of the year, but Joel Headley is going to be there, Mary is going to be there. Darren Shaw is going to be there. Joy Hawkins will be there. Aaron Weiche from Get Five Stars, Megan Hannay from ZipSprout will be there as well as…

Mary: Tine and Ed.

Joel: Tine and Ed, yeah.

Mike: Right, and Will Scott. And also sponsors are going to be there including Moz, Get Five Stars, Whitespark and ZipSprout. It’s an interesting group of people and we have some interesting topics.

One of those topics, what we wanted to talk about today, is the question that came to me just this yesterday, I’ve written an article called “Google as your homepage.” And in it, I posited that a lot of leads are coming directly from Google, and they’re not going to your website anymore. And one of the misconceptions that that argument creates is that somehow, the need for a website in this context is less. And I think that that’s a misconception for a number of reasons, and we’re going to talk about that today. But to some extent, website content is Google’s existential sort of basis. The way David phrases it is that your website might even become an API to Google — i.e., feeding all the advanced data to Google. So, with that, I’ll turn it over to you, Joel, give us some thoughts on this and discuss your upcoming talk.

Joel: Yeah. I think this idea of creating an API to Google is dead-on. In the last couple of years at Google, I actually worked on the search side of the business where we were working with large publishers to integrate their data. And the way we did it is that, “Hey, we have an API here. Can you talk to that API and tell us more about your website?” And in some cases, it was as simple as sending us a feed of structured data, right? So you could imagine a job site feeding Google structured data about where is a job available, what category is it in, when is it available for, how long is the posting period? So that Google can then show a job card in the search results and people could click through and find that job. This wasn’t being sourced…

Mike: Similar thing I just sent you this earlier this week, where the search results of a table, the table of contents was showing up in the search snippet, right?

Joel: Yes. So, you have examples where the website itself, whether the website is sending Google a direct feed through an API or the website itself is providing rich information for Google to drive the search results or the products that Google is giving. I can send a recipe to Google Home and say, “Tell me the next step in the recipe. Tell me the ingredients I need to gather.” And Google Home will talk to me, that’s all being driven by a website. So, I’m never visiting that website, but Google certainly is. And so those results given to me are driven by this website being a platform regardless of my visit to it. So looking beyond when things…

Mike: So, in local, this makes sense to me because so many of the conversions can occur on the Knowledge Panel, right? The click to call, the click for driving directions, the click for scheduling, the click out to an appointment calendar now on the Knowledge Panel makes all kinds of sense to me that you want to just keep feeding Google that data. It doesn’t make as much sense to me once you’re outside of local, it strikes me that you are losing critical eyeballs like in the publishing world, or opportunities for up selling them on subscriptions and stuff, right? So, if your website is currently being used a lot for conversions, this is maybe more problematic, I would guess, to some people. But in local, I see it as incredibly valuable, to just keep feeding data to Google from your website.

Joel: Yeah. A couple of the products that I worked on where I see it as directly beneficial would be what we called walk actions or listen actions. This — we would get a feed from a provider or say something like Tune In, or what are the kids listening to these days? Spotify? And then you would search a song, and if you had the app installed, there would be a Play button right next to the song. I’d hit Play and it would launch the Spotify app. Or if I had HBO GO installed or HBO NOW, whatever, and I searched Game of Thrones, I hit Click Play directly from the search results and it pops me directly into the app. It’s a faster experience for me. It’s getting to the content that the content providers want you to see quicker. So, there is some cases where this is mutually beneficial. I think also if you’re in e-commerce, this is going to be a big deal, matching inventory and an ability to quickly purchase, letting Google serve that information however it’s going to serve it. You can imagine the assistant might take this very far that a lot of the transaction can happen on Google. So, not just on local, but it is happening in other…

Mike: Well, you say e-commerce though, but product inventory has been sort of the holy grail of local search, and we’re starting to see that. So, I see that possibility of being really having a huge impact on local where you’re looking for a specific item and you can then find out its availability, which locations it’s at, in to some extent that this intermediates the brand of the reseller because you’re just looking for the item. But, you know, for many commodity items, I think it makes all kinds of sense that that would be a way to increase your presence from a local point of view.

Mary: One of the issues that I’ve seen for years with small businesses is them not really taking seriously the concept that Google is looking at their website for information. And I can’t tell you how often I found numerous phone numbers that made no sense on different parts of the site. It’s not unusual for the little guys to just kind of Frankenstein their sites and keep adding new sections on, and adding different navigation. And a lot of times, they don’t even look at all the pages of their site, they have no idea really what’s on their website. So, I think it’s a service that agencies can do for businesses is to get this all cleaned up.

Joel: Yeah, even more than that. They don’t realize how their website can drive the conversions that are coming in. I mean, I had a doctor…

Mike: Before you go, let me just point out this new thing we’re seeing in mobile search where the actual local results says, — when you do a search for engagement rings Williamsville, New York — the result will say the website speaks about engagement rings right in the local graph. I don’t know if you’ve seen this yet. So, Google is extracting, taking the query, matching it against content on the website, and highlighting the fact that the website actually says something along these lines of engagement rings or pretty jewelry, pretty rings, whatever. Sorry, go ahead, Joel.

Joel: No, exact same thing. I had a provider, a doctor that wanted to do one procedure, and he complained that a lot of the calls he was getting he referred to other doctors because he didn’t want to work on that particular thing. He only wanted to do his one specialized procedure. And I said, “Well, let’s look at your website.” And all his website has one page on his specialized procedure than it has all these pages about stuff he doesn’t want to do. I’m like, “Why did you do that?” And he said, “Well, I thought you needed to have that content up there to, you know, just…

Mike: Yeah, to generate web traffic.

Mary: Yeah.

Mike: Unqualified web traffic, right?

Joel: Yeah.

Mary: And we went through about, I’d say what, about five years of the “content is king” bullshit where people were just throwing up any kind of content they could think of on their website.

Mike: Were you meaning throwing up metaphorically or figuratively?

Mary: Both. I mean just, you know, spammy articles that were keyword stuffed that was what was going to move the dial for people, and it didn’t work then, and it’s hurting them now.

Mike: I mean, obviously, content and rich snippets, and as I mentioned, table content that’s now certainly show up in search results, and search queries that are showing up back. There’s two other huge reasons why the website is still important. One is that even if the most conversions occur on the Google Local Knowledge Panel, the second most are occurring on your website, right? So, there are people who need more information and can’t make that decision until they visited your website. And the third reason is that your website has a verified local relationship with the entity in Google’s Knowledge Graph. And the rank of your website directly influences the rank or the prominence of your website and that page influences the rank.

So it has multiple values even if Google is delivering 90% of the leads of the Knowledge Panel, which in some businesses I’m seeing in terms of, you know, key performance indicators. It’s still — I would never in that situation say, you shouldn’t have a great website that explains clearly who you are, where you are, what you do. As much as possible, structure that data, make it clear, make it easy for Google to grab because it’s got multiple values, right?

Joel: Yeah. And I’ll go into more detail about this. But there are the fanciest features on Google are being driven by APIs. So, if you have a content-only website that doesn’t think about how to deliver and interact with APIs, you might be missing out on some of the things that most people can take advantage of, whether it’s emanating from their website or a lead generation site, it’s going to happen and you want to be in control of that experience.

Mike: Right.

Mary: Yeah, I’ve seen a few industries. One of them being like the estate sales industry where there’s two or three big players who have figured out all the schema, all the ways, all the answer boxes. And that if you want to play in that space, you’re going to have to partner up with one of those big lead gen-type sites, or you’re not going to see anything as far as traffic goes.

Mike: Right. And storage industry is like that wherein the lead gen sites have the best technology, and the best ability to rank, and the best ability to feed Google data, and you’ve got to play with them.

Mary: And I think that a lot of really small businesses like the local pizza joint, the carpet cleaner guy that comes to my house that they need to figure out who their best partners can be because it’s going to be very hard for them to compete with the technology.

Joel: Yeah. It’s going to be tough for someone that runs their own site on Wix to be able to really stay up-to-date and be a player in these growing technology-oriented spaces, in terms of how do you plug in and how do you show up on websites, I think.

Mike: The one advantage there I see in local is that Google cuts local businesses a great deal of slack in terms of what they expect of their websites, compared to what you expect of other people’s websites. You know, the demand for AMP is less, those kinds of demands that Google imposes on more sophisticated companies, they have not yet imposed to the local. Not that you don’t need a great website, you do. And not that it won’t give you advantage, it will. But at least there’s a little bit of slack in there from Google as far as I can tell. Maybe you could confirm that for me.

Joel: Yeah, yeah. I mean I certainly think there’s timing, but ultimately, if they’re going to be able to partner someone, partner with somebody else, and you’re not, your website isn’t somehow plugged in — even it’s not directly with Google but plugged in with another API someplace else — it may end up missing out.

Mike: Well, we saw this with menus, right, where they were partnered with Single Platform, and nobody could get their menu on even if the Single Platform menu was terrible. Fortunately, Google sort of finally gave the business the ability to put their own menu link up there so that it was in fact the right menu. But appointments, all these other transactional things, I think, obviously, as we talked about last week, I think Google Maps is going to become more transactional, right, not less.

Joel: Yeah.

Mike: And I believe the Knowledge Panel becomes more transactional, not less. I mean, if Google sees the users want that, that’s what Google’s going to do. And if you’re not giving them the data from your website to do that, they’re going to grab it where they can, right?

Joel: Yeah. We’ll talk about all this and more at LocalU Santa Monica.

Mike: All righty.

Joel: And I’m not sure if you mentioned it, Mike, but we will have two Googlers there to be able to explain to us what’s really happening behind the curtains, or evade all our questions depending…

Mike: Depending on what question we ask.

Joel: Who’s asking, yeah.

Mike: So, we’ll see how far whether Joel is free enough to, whether it’s now time that Joel can speak freely about what he knew a year ago, we’ll see. You know, it will be Joel’s task.

Mary: One thing I have to say is, I’ve never met Alison, but Marissa Nordahl — I saw her in action at a small business LocalU conference. And she actually gets a thrill out of correcting things on Google Maps and making clients who have nightmare problems happy.

Joel: Yeah. And I’ve been working with Alison a little bit in the last couple of weeks, she’s been great. So she’s fantastic too.

Mike: And they’re both girls.

Joel: Yeah.

Mike: I mean Marissa actually has elevated the top contributors in the forum to actually provide us with constructive activities that we can do to help make things better for both the business and for Google, and that’s a tribute to her wanting to fix things. So we’ll, you know, get to meet her at LocalU Advanced, November 16th. I’ll be there, Joel be there, Mary will be there, plus I think another seven or eight speakers and some great sponsors.

Mary: Oh, can I add one more thing here?

Mike: Sure.

Mary: I just had an instance with a client that Mike and I have both done some work for over the years, where he is in a position where he’s getting a lot of publicity right now. And it’s something that my partner and I felt was out of our wheel house, so we referred him to someone who could help him. But that was all because we go to conferences and we meet people, and we network, and we make friends. So when we needed a specialist in a certain thing, we could just pick up the phone and call him. To me, that has always been one of the best things about going to any conference is those networking opportunities.

Mike: And speaking of those, I think Joel actually got his introduction to his current job at LocalU Advanced. I mean, he didn’t decide that he wanted to do it immediately, but he met the principal and, you know, came familiar with him. And ultimately, led to a job, so I agree.

Joel: Yeah. And even in this past week, I was able to talk to David Dearing because we had made a connection at LocalU. And we were able to discuss some business and mutually help each other, it was fantastic. I love being part of that community and being part of this group.

Mike: That’s always been my vision of local — that it’s a collaborative, collegial community where people with specialties and expertise can help each other. So, hopefully, we can carry on that tradition at LocalU Advanced, November 16th. We’ll see you there, it should be a great session. Thanks.

Joel: Bye.

Mary: Thanks, guys.

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